This is old, but I didn’t flag it at the time and I think readers might find it useful: Back in August, Chemjobber and Janet Stemwedel of San Jose State University and Doing Good Science had a (long!) conversation about lab safety, which Chemjobber recorded and posted as a podcast. Stemwedel, who got her PhD in chemistry before transitioning to philosophy, followed up by posting transcripts from parts of the discussion. Here are the links:
[on incorporating safety into tenure decisions] … if it became a matter of “Show us the steps you’re taking to incorporate an awareness and a seriousness about safety into how you train these graduate students to be grown-up chemists,” that’s a different kind of thing from, “Oh, and did you have any accidents or not?” Because sometimes the accidents are because you haven’t paid attention at all to safety, but sometimes the accidents are really just bad luck.
It really does seem that the commenters who are coming from industry are saying, “These conditions that we’re hearing about in the Harran lab (and maybe in academic labs in general) are not good conditions for producing knowledge as safely as we can.” And the academic commenters are saying, “Oh come on, it’s like this everywhere! Why are you going to hold this one guy responsible for something that could have happened to any of us?” It shines a light on something interesting about how academic labs building knowledge function really differently from industrial labs building knowledge.
Something bad happened, and the reason something bad happened, I think, is because of a culture in academic chemistry where it was acceptable for a PI not to pay attention to safety considerations until something bad happened. And that’s got to change.